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Taming Tru2way

Alan Breznick

PHILADELPHIA -- SCTE Cable-Tec Expo -- The U.S. cable industry’s two biggest MSOs may have pledged to roll out tru2way throughout the land, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve worked out all the kinks with the uniform interactive TV technology yet. Far from it, in fact. (See Revealed: The Tru2way MOU.)

Speaking at an breakfast panel here Wednesday, senior Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK). executives -- who are committed to providing network support for tru2way middleware and supporting the technology in all digital cable headends by next July 1 -- said they’re still struggling with software integration issues even as they continue to install the first tru2way digital TV sets and set-top boxes in subscribers’ homes. They also said it will take more time for them to get the new, relatively unstable technology exactly where they want it.

“The big focus for us is operationalizing” tru2way, said Mike Hayashi, executive vice president of advanced engineering for Time Warner Cable, noting that there are “lots of day-to-day issues” to be addressed. Hayashi said the MSO has gone through “a very steep learning curve” on tru2way because it started working on the technology at the same time that it began deploying CableCARDS in digital cable set-tops.

Comcast, likewise, is also focused on “operationalizing” tru2way. “It’s the beginning of an ecosystem,” said John Schanz, executive vice president of national engineering and technical operations for Comcast. “We’re on a journey... It’s a little way out there.”

Noting that it has “become much more important and relevant” for the cable industry to emphasize software, Schanz said Comcast is now focused on “building out the infrastructure” rather than offering new interactive TV products and features to subscribers.

For his part, Dermot O’Carroll, senior vice president of network engineering and operations for Rogers Communications Inc. (NYSE: RG; Toronto: RCI), seemed relieved that the large Canadian MSO doesn’t have to meet the same regulatory mandates as do its U.S. counterparts. While Rogers will also make the switch to tru2way technology eventually, he said, it can “thankfully” wait for its MSO brethren to the south to make the shift first.

But, despite their software struggles, cable officials said they are still moving ahead on tru2way. While they didn’t really declare victory yet, they still see reason for hope.

“I think the system is getting stable,” Hayashi said. “Over the last six months, I think things have stabilized quite a bit.”

— Alan Breznick, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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